Tag Archives: decision making

Can you cut your payroll and still keep employees happy?

Most small businesses have already done some belt tightening this year. We’ve trimmed dead wood, become a more lean machine, and every other metaphor you can apply to spending less money. Still, when we see our final projections of where our year-end financials will end up, we might  wonder if we should cut a little more.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy, wrote in the New York Times this weekend about a creative approach to cutting costs by trading employees money for time. She cites the example of KMPG, the giant accounting firm, and their solution to cutting payroll costs without losing star talent. They presented 11,000 employees with a Chinese menu of choices: work a four-day week and take a 20% pay reduction; take a short sabbatical while earning 30 percent of their base salary; both of those options; or neither of those options, retaining their regular salary for their standard work week. Over 80% of them chose one of the flex options.

Hewlett points out that because KPMG positioned these options as “a strategic response to the downturn, rather than a ‘benefit’ for working mothers, it has gone some distance to legitimizing flex time. Taking this option has become an honored choice — a way to save jobs. As a result, overloaded men as well as overloaded women have felt free to vary their schedules.”

I’ve seen one small company try a flawed version of this plan with disastrous results. Faced with the need to reduce payroll and loathe to eliminate jobs, the business owner asked everyone in the company to take a 15 percent pay cut, assuring them that she was taking the same reduction in salary. She hoped they would see this as a good way to help all their coworkers keep their jobs.

It didn’t work that way. Morale plummeted and some of her best talent jumped ship. Months later, when she was able to reinstate full salaries, she didn’t score any points with her staff because the damage was already done.

The crucial elements of cutting payroll while retaining employees are 1) giving them something back, i.e. time, in exchange for giving up some of their salary, and 2) giving them the choice of making that trade or not. Asking employees to help suck up your losses by getting paid less for the same work week is only going to hurt the company in the long run.

The thing about being an entrepreneur is that you have the potential to make a lot of money in good years. You also have the potential to lose money in the bad ones. We all willingly take that risk, but it’s not fair to expect our employees to share in the down side. On the other hand, in 2010 or 2011, when we see year-end projections that show us closing the year with gobs of money, we’ll benefit nicely from the upside of that risk-reward ratio.


How does a small ad agency manage to launch an iPhone app?

APP-001-ScreenshotPageOne-v1bBack in April, I read an article in the New York Times titled “The iPhone Gold Rush” and came into the office the next morning mumbling about how we should try making an iPhone app. Yesterday, Tribe‘s first iPhone application launched in the App Store and on iTunes.

This is a perfect example of how quickly a small company can do something that would take a large corporation months of meetings before they even got going. A small team of talented and capable people can move mountains — or in this case, launch an iPhone app in something under six months.

Here’s how it happened: We took it one step at a time. First, we kicked around ideas for the app and decided to start with a mini-version of a printed product we’d recently developed for entrepreneurs. The Start Your Own Company deck, from our Starter Cards division, is a stack of 52 cards that breaks down the process of launching and building a business into manageable steps.

Second, we started poking around for partners who could supply the programming skills we don’t have in-house. Through a friend, we found a team of developers who wanted to try their hand at an iPhone app. (Extra kudos and love to those programmers: Stephanie Baird and Ladd Usher.)

Next, we went through the process to be approved as a registered member of the Apple  iPhone Developer Program. It’s a somewhat daunting application, but between our designer, our accountant and our programmers, we managed to fill in all the blanks.

Then our creative team worked to design and format all the screen shots required and the programmers did their thing. We went back and forth on whether the screens would flip or slide and if the type should be a point size larger or smaller, and eventually arrived at a design that pleased us all.

We submitted the Start Your Own Company app, and sat back to wait. In less than a week, we received word that it was approved and ready to be launched in the App Store on September 10. In the past few days, we’ve whipped out press releases and shot a demo video for YouTube and figured out how to submit the app to reviewers.

Like many projects in a small company, this one was touched by every hand in the house. I tossed the idea out there on the table, but the team took over from there. Here are what I consider to be some interesting lessons in this process.

1: There is great momentum in making a decision. We didn’t hem and haw about whether to do it or not, and we didn’t overthink what that first app would be. Sometimes there are many right answers, and there’s power in picking one and moving on.

2: A good size for a team is the number of people you can get in a room right now. If you’ve got to coordinate several departments and calendars, you can spin wheels for a long while. A smaller team is less cumbersome and more efficient.

3: It  helps to have a range of skill sets on the team. This particular team included a writer, an art director, two programmers, an account manager, a traffic manager, an accountant, a president and a CEO. That covers a wide range of strengths.

4: If you need outside help, create a win-win situation. We couldn’t have done this without Stephanie and Ladd. We needed people who could program, and they were interested in adding an iPhone app to their resumes, so the partnership worked for all of us.

Hell Yes to work-life balance, from Judy Martin

img2judy_martin_photoI’ve just discovered Judy Martin, who seems like a kindred spirit in the area of work-life balance. She’s also an Emmy award-winning journalist with 2o years of broadcast news under her belt. You may have seen or heard her on Marketplace Report, National Public Radio, CNBC Business Radio, The World Vision Report or News 12 TV Networks. She now writes and speaks about the merging of the working and living experience. HellYesBookCoverSmall

Judy posted a great review yesterday (follows below) of my “Hell Yes” book in her blog at Work Life Nation: 

Work Life Balance: If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no

“Just say no.” The phrase is arguably one of the most sacred with regard to the eternal quest for work life balance. Now Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO and creative director of ad agency Tribe Inc., takes the phrase a tad deeper in her book, Hell Yes: Two Little Words for a Simpler, Happier Life

Hell Yes is a simple book. It’s shy of a hundred pages, but filled with richly written phrases that directly drive home the premise of the book:  cut to the chase of what truly matters in any given choice. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no. The book offers a haiku-like take on more conscious steps in the decision making process of daily life, at home and at work.

The wisdom is not necessarily anything you haven’t heard before, but it’s the delivery that catches ones eye and heart. You could pick this book up over and over again for some thought provoking contemplative exercises. I’d like to slip it onto the desk of a few news producers I know. 

Baskin asks this question throughout the book, “Is it a hell yes?” Her responses cover everything from ego, to time management, to food choices and project decisions. As she says, ” This one simple question serves as the sharpest razor, swiftly and completely cutting away anything in the gray area.”

In our changing times, every decision, especially with regard to career and work can have numerous implications down the road. We are constantly faced with change and challenges. Baskin has experience in that area. She is well versed in transition and reinvention as a branding specialist with a cache of national and global clients like UPS, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Chick-fil-A and Porsche. 

What I particularly like about the book is Baksin’s brevity.  In our sensory overloaded society,  it’s refreshing to be able to just pick up a book, hit any page – and get a shot of know-how, to make the day go a little easier. It should be required reading for anyone trying to merge ones work life journey in a more positive way.

Small Business Strategies: The power of a vacation

Flip flopsWhen you own your own company, it can be very difficult to tear yourself away from the business for any stretch of days long enough to be considered a vacation. But taking a vacation is one of the most responsible things you can do for your company.

This is very tough for us Type A types to believe. We get so wrapped up in the urgency of the day-to-day workings of the company, and sometimes even in our own self-importance. It’s hard to believe the business wouldn’t immediately run adrift the second we take our hand off the tiller. 

When my first agency hit its one-year mark, my business partner and I contemplated a spa trip, both to celebrate the success of our first year and to plan for the next. We just could not imagine being out of the office for the five days the trip would take. We broached the subject with our first employee, who was by that point handling many details that neither of us were much good at anyway. When we asked if she thought that she and our skeleton crew could possibly manage without us that long, she burst out laughing. “I think we can handle it,” Rebecca said drily and turned on her heel to get back to work. 

The thing about getting away from the business for a number of days is that it pulls you out of the mire of details and deadlines. It breaks that ant trail of list making perpetually marching in your head. And eventually, not right away, but when your mind begins to calm, you will find clarity. This is where the power of the vacation lies.

With the distance of time and geography, you provide the space for big ideas to appear. The perspective you gain from stepping back from the business allows you to see both issues and opportunities you hadn’t had time to notice before.

Of course, this clarity doesn’t come right away. For me, at least, my mind churns as busily as ever for the first few days of a vacation. I sit on the beach thinking of things I need to make sure people back at the office remember to do, or hike in the desert hills with accounting numbers banging around in my head. But eventually, the salt water or the desert air do their trick. 

Most of the really smart business ideas I’ve ever had occurred to me on vacation, in a moment of stillness toward the end of the trip. I was staring out at the ocean in the early days of Tribe when I realized I could never make the income I wanted with only my own billable hours, at least not without working many more hours a week than I wanted. A few weeks after that vacation, I had six or eight freelancers working on client projects, and I was billing all their hours with a nice markup. Jennifer and I were sitting at the pool towards the end of one of our Arizona trips when we realized it was time for Tribe to get real office space, to collect all our home-office people in one location. That decision was huge to Tribe’s ability to grow, and to serve our Fortune 500 clients who were becoming increasingly less tolerant of trying to track us down in our virtual world. I was sitting on the beach on a family vacation a few months later when I realized it made a whole lot more sense to get a loan from our bank for the office build-out instead of trying to pay that out of cash flow. That decision gave us financial flexibility that made all the difference one tough slow summer. 

The hard part is trusting that it will happen. As the days of vacation trail behind me, I almost always think it’s not working. I somehow expect that my mind will immediately stop its usual racket the minute I’m out of the office. It takes time. It takes hikes in the mountains or runs on the beach, it takes long nights of good sleep and leisurely afternoon naps, it takes reading a few books, having some good meals, sitting on the porch for cocktails with people I love. 

Then suddenly, the big picture or the new idea or the instant clarity floats up out of nowhere. Often, it’s something that is so clearly the right thing, it later seems obvious. You just never saw it before. And likely would never have seen it, if you hadn’t taken the time to slow down for a few days.

Therein likes the power of vacation.

Small Business Strategies: Six tips for making better decisions

traffic arrowsIf it’s not a Hell Yes, then it’s a Hell No. When you adopt the Hell Yes principle, you’ll find it an effective and efficient way to make business decisions quickly. Next time you’re faced with a choice to make for your company, or need to set priorities to get things done, ask yourself one simple question: Is it a Hell Yes? If not, then let your answer be Hell No. This question acts as a razor to cut away everything in the gray area – and allows you quick access to your intuition.

1.    Identify your big Hell Yes for the day. What’s the one most important thing you need to do today? It could be something you’ve just had in the back of your mind, like the nagging thought that you should check in with a client who hasn’t seemed pleased lately. Or maybe you’ve had an idea for a way to increase sales, but haven’t yet taken the time to sit down and develop your thoughts. Make that task a Hell Yes, and get it out of the way as early in the day as possible.

 2.    No one knows your business like you know your business. It’s great to have a trusted team of advisors, like your banker, your lawyer, your CPA or even other business owners you trust. But when it gets right down to it, nobody understands a company like the person who’s running it every day. Take others’ input, but in the end you have to trust your own gut. Only you will know what constitutes a true Hell Yes for your company.

 3.    Say Hell No to high maintenance clients Even in this economy, there are times when it’s good business to say no to certain customers. If you have a strong feeling that a client is going to be unprofitable, slow to pay, or just not a good match for your company, summon up a polite thanks but no thanks. It will leave you more time and energy to pursue the client who would be a real Hell Yes.

 4.    Don’t hire someone who isn’t a Hell Yes In a small business, every employee is a huge investment. Sometimes a job candidate looks good on paper but doesn’t feel like the right fit. Other times, you might find someone with the qualities that make you know in your heart that this is someone you want on board, even if their resume doesn’t show all the experience you’d like. 

 5.    Turn on a dime when you discover a Hell Yes

One of the biggest advantages of owning a small business is that you can make a decision in the morning and implement it by afternoon, without going through all the necessary approvals and consensus building of the typical corporate environment. If a new direction suddenly strikes you as a Hell Yes, pursue it right now, with everything you’ve got.

 6.    Feeling energized is a sign of an approaching Hell Yes. Pay attention to how a business opportunity or potential project makes you feel. If you feel excited and energized, that’s a Hell Yes. If you have to struggle to make yourself get going, something’s probably off. You might want to say Hell No to that one, and create room for something that makes you say Hell Yes.

Quiz: Do you know how to say no?

guy on cell phoneBusiness owners tend to be chronically over committed, unless they’re vigilant about strategies to keep life balanced. Answer these seven questions to see how you score:

Q1. Do your days generally feel:

A. Roomy and relaxed? 

B. Busy but manageable? 

C. Frantic and stressed?

Q2. If someone you consider a nice person asks you to do something and you really don’t want to do it, do you:

A. Say thanks, but no thanks?

B. Say yes, even though you don’t really feel like it?

C. Spend hours trying to decide if you should do it or not?

Q3. Let’s say someone hoping to network asks you to book a date for lunch next week. Your company is in a particularly busy stretch, and you know you won’t want to leave the office for a two-hour lunch. Do you:

A. Refuse politely, saying you’re too busy to book anything right now?

B. Say sure, next Wednesday looks perfect?

C. Accept, but then angst about it and end up canceling at the last minute?

Q4: Towards the end of an exhausting week, a friend asks you to meet for dinner at a fancy restaurant Friday night. You know you won’t feel like getting dressed up to go out, but you don’t want to let your friend down. Do you:

A. Thank your friend but ask for a rain check another time?

B. Ask your friend to meet for a movie instead?

C. Agree to go and then dread going?

Q5: Someone brings brownies to the office. You’ve been avoiding sweets to get ready for swimsuit season. Do you:

A. Skip the brownies?

B. Take one brownie and enjoy it thoroughly?

C. Break off a tiny piece of brownie every time you walk by?

Q6: How much of a typical day would you say is spent doing things you truly love or things that are a huge priority to you, even if they’re difficult?

A: Most of my day.

B. Some of the day, but not by any means most of it.

C. Almost none of my day.

Q7: How well are you able to access your intuition?

A. When I’m faced with a decision, I intuitively know the right answer for me. 

B. I’m not great at making decisions.

C. I really struggle with figuring out what I want.


• If you answered mostly A’s: You do a fantastic job of identifying the commitments that are meaningful to you and sidestepping the ones that aren’t. Congratulations. You’re a great role model to the people around you. 

• Mostly B’s? You are willingly setting yourself up to be too busy. Your life would feel much more relaxed and balanced if you could develop some techniques to say no to the things that aren’t so important to you.

• Lots of Cs? Not only are you letting yourself be perpetually overcommitted, you’re also spending a lot of energy trying to figure out whether you should or shouldn’t do something and how to get out of the ones you agreed to.


  1. Stop letting Yes be your default answer. Stop and think about whether you really want to make this commitment before you agree out of habit.
  2. Stop worrying about letting someone down: Just because someone asked you to do something, doesn’t mean you’re the only one they could ask. Maybe the next person they ask would jump at the chance.
  3. Nice people will still be nice if you say no. There’s nothing that says you’re obligated to do anything anyone asks. Get over it.
  4. Keep commitments you’ve made to yourself. If you’ve decided to cut back on excess spending or calories, you’re probably not going to truly enjoy any splurge that breaks that commitment. You’ll feel much better by doing what you promised yourself you would.